The holiday season is upon us once more, so it’s time for our annual spotlight on the unique landscape of local shopping opportunities here in C-U and beyond. If we are going to participate in alllll the capitalism at this time of year, we may as well be doing it where our dollars can infuse the local economy and maybe even give a lift to organizations that are out there doing good work. This guide is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will give you a solid start and will lessen your stress of having to think about where to go and what to get. If you need some extra stress relief, check out Alyssa’s edible recommendations for the holiday season.
When you want a shopping experience
Mottainai, returns to Japan House this year for the first time since the pandemic. This is one of my very favorite holiday shopping experiences, and I am thrilled that it’s back. The annual 2-day bazaar is organized by Japan House interns, and 100% of the sales support the internship program. You’ll find handmade items alongside all sorts of interesting things collected and displayed. It’s a great place to find unique items that you aren’t going to find anywhere else around town. Japan House is just a lovely place to visit too, and if you attend on Saturday, December 10th you can add a bowl of matcha and wagashi to your shopping experience. Admission to Mottainai is free, but you’ll need to register for a specific shopping time.
When you’d rather stay on your couch
Champaign Center Partnership is once again offering a one-stop shop where you can get a variety of gift cards to Downtown, Midtown, and Campustown establishments. There are restaurants, salons, home goods, and more, and even opportunities to donate to some of your favorite local organizations.
Also, many of the businesses suggested in this article have online shopping available for goods or gift cards.
Seek out minority-owned businesses
If you have not tried Cool Bliss Popped Bliss yet, why not? There are so many different popcorn flavor options…I love their white cheddar and of course the “Mix” which is the classic Chicago cheese/caramel combo. There are a variety of sizes of bags, and decorative tins. For your friends and fam with a sweet tooth, they have caramel apples and dipped Oreos and all sorts of wonderful things. It’s worth going to the store just to smell it.
Intentionally seek out businesses owned by people in historically marginalized groups. These directories are a good starting point: LGBTQ+ owned (and/or affirming), Black owned, Woman owned, Immigrant owned.
Venture out of town
We have a wealth of shopping options here is C-U, so it’s easy to forget that some of the surrounding towns have some solid places to find gifts for people. I’m obsessed with the pieces that you can find at Prairie Fire Glass in Monticello. You can order online, but it’s also worth it to make the trip to see the gallery. Glass artist Jim Downey makes beautiful ornaments, and can even do custom work if you get on the ball with your order. You can grab lunch at The Brown Bag while you’re in town, and check out other shops on the square.
Brighten someone’s space
I know flowers are fleeting, but I would be thrilled if someone brought me a bouquet to brighten my day during the busy and sometimes stressful holiday season. As much as I want to be, I am not a person who can keep plants alive, so I’m just fine with a lovely floral arrangement that will enhance my space temporarily. Sarah at Fleurish has such a gift for assembling stunning arrangements for all sorts of price points. You’ll also find some super cool gift items in the shop.
If you’re looking for something a little longer lasting, we have no shortage of options here in C-U. Plantify is gone, but Planted C-U has sprouted up in its place (see what I did there). Orchid & Vine is a new shop in the Windsor Galleria, and Plant Mode is going strong in it’s new home in the former Bacaro space.
Go a little niche
Earlier this year, legendary headshop Mother Murphy’s expanded beyond its original location in Uptown Normal to Midtown in Champaign. Just like the original, the new store has all of your counter-culture needs from posters to t-shirts and incense to glassware. I’ve talked before about it feeling like a “forbidden” sort of place when my tween self would venture up the stairs of the store in Normal. The Champaign location is meant to be open to all ages (the glassware and other cannabis accessories are in a room in the back), and it has a very chill vibe.
I’m not a gaming sort of person, but many are, and whether you are looking for Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games and accessories, board games, or card games, you can find it in C-U. Check out Gopher Mafia, Titan Games, or Enchantment Alley. G-Mart has some of these items as well, in addition to their expansive comic book selection. Beads N Botanicals and International Galleries are interesting places to find gifts for those exploring spiritual realms. The latter is also a great place to find art prints and interesting jewelry. Find ideas for music collectors at Record Swap or Exile on Main. Get a play at home game, Solve Our Shirts t-shirts, or gift certificate from C-U Adventures in Time and Space. Find an amazing selection of art supplies, as well as fun and funky gifts and all things queer-friendly at Art Coop.
For the person who needs a little pampering
Life is stressful, and people appreciate products and services that are going to help them stop, relax, and give themselves a little love. Know someone who might like a facial or a private meditation session? Hada Cosmetic Medicine and Hatha Yoga and Fitness have a whole lot of experiences and product offerings in one building.
Golden Weather Goods personifies cozy with body balms and lotions and oils, candles and incense, and soft home items. Check out Delight Flower Farm‘s Herb Shop for CBD products and more made from their dried herbs. I had an amazing massage from Amy at Vital Flow.
For the book lover
The Literary came on the scene about a year ago, and it’s been a great addition to Downtown Champaign. We talk a lot about the need for businesses that are more than just a place to eat and drink, and while you can do those things at The Literary, you can also find books and gifts. There’s just something about a new book. They are so pretty, and they have that “new book” smell.
Can’t find what you’re looking for there? Hartfield Book Co. in Monticello is another place to find new books. If you’d rather buy used, Orphans Treasure Box Bookstore and Jane Addams bookstore are the way to go.
For the person who can appreciate reducing, reusing, and recycling
Speaking of buying used, Champaign County Restore is in a brand new space. Have you been yet? You’ll find used items, but also many new things that were overstock. By doing some thrifting, you can get unique gifts, often for less money, and shop in a sustainable way. You can also feel good about knowing your purchase will help build homes for people in our community.
Hit up Furniture Lounge for mid-century furniture and other vintage items. Crafters might appreciate a collection of ephemera from The Idea Store, or a gift card so they can find yarn, jewelry making supplies, and any sort of items to remake into art. They also have some gorgeous and unique jewelry pieces!
For someone who loves C-U
Maybe you know a former C-U person who has since moved away, or someone who just loves living in this community. Chambana Proud, a collaboration between Visit Champaign County and Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, launched in 2019 with an online store filled with unique C-U centered t-shirts, designed by local artists. You can still get those shirts, along with other goods from area makers, in their store. Visit Champaign County has a space within their offices where you can find the items (if you’re an “I need to see and touch” sort of person). You can order items online.
For those whose C-U love is more University of Illinois focused, Illini Union Bookstore is always a good choice. Alma Market is an online store that features items sold by U of I alumni as well as current students and C-U businesses.
For those who appreciate the arts
Being in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts gives me warm feelings. I’ve chaperoned field trips there, watched both of my kids perform there, seen loved ones graduate there, and have experienced comedy, musical theater, ballet, classical music, the blues and more there. I love the vibe, the glass of wine from the Stage 5 Bar pre-show and yummy dessert from Intermezzo at intermission. There’s a little something for everyone on the event list, so why not get someone tickets for a show or a gift card so they can choose their own adventure (and also get a piece of cake).
As I mentioned above, there are several arts markets to check out this season. You can also find great pieces Art Coop’s $50 Art Show, while supporting the Champaign County Humane Society, or at the annual Tom Brewer Gallery holiday sale.
For someone who drinks coffee or tea
One of my favorite items to include in extended family gifts is the seasonal coffee packets from Columbia Street Roastery. Usually I purchase the 12 Days of Christmas boxed set and split them up as fun little additions to gifts. Of course if you have someone that really loves coffee, you can give them the whole damn set or some full sized options. They have a great selection of single-origin coffees, and a varied tea selection.
Walnut Street Tea is a great place to get tea and coffee and other gifty things, and now they have a 2nd location at The Crossing. And don’t forget about Espresso Royale and Page Roasting Co for some great beans.
For someone who drinks booze
There’s a brand new wine shop on the scene, Ladro Enoteca, and they have a lovely and unique selection of wines. I recommend leaving yourself some time to linger for a bit and enjoy one of their rotating gin and tonic combos or a glass of wine, along with a little bite while you contemplate your purchase.
Art Mart is always a great place to find wine, beer, various liquors, as well as cocktail mixers and just gifts in general. Check out what Triptych has in their case now (and don’t miss the return of Festivus!) or find Riggs and Blind Pig beers at most area grocery stores.
For someone who loves dining out
One of my love languages is going out to dinner. If you have someone like me on your list, there are so many great restaurant options in C-U and beyond. Just take a look at our Food & Drink section. Hamilton Walker’s is a nice option because it’s a bit of a splurge. Their cocktails are amazing, the vibe is on point, and you can treat someone to a nice steakhouse style dinner. Their gift cards are available in the aforementioned Champaign Center Partnership store, and I’ve even spied Hamilton Walker’s gift cards at Costco.
For your foodie friend
Prairie Fruits Farm is a local gem that has some great foodie options. Go online and check out their fun gift baskets at various price points that will contain a bit of goat cheese alongside other local bites. If you’d like a full shopping experience, you can visit the farm store on weekends and see cute goats as a bonus. This Saturday they are hosting an event with holiday shopping from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Santa goat photo booth from 1 to 4 p.m.) with yummy snacks and treats available.
For the person who doesn’t want or need stuff
Donate to a cause in honor of your friends and family who really don’t need anything. The needs in our community are great, so find something that aligns with a cause you are passionate about and give. Maybe that means donating to Planned Parenthood of Illinois in honor of your crazy conservative uncle. I don’t know your life.
Uniting Pride, Cunningham Township Angel Fund, Courage Connection, Jubilee Cafe, C-U Trauma and Resilience, Rattle the Stars, WILL, Immigrant Services of CU, C-U Schools Foundation, DREAAM, First Followers, Champaign and Urbana Park Districts, or Champaign County Forest Preserve District are some other good options.